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Pluralistic approaches to languages and cultures

Pluralistic approaches to languages and cultures (Language awareness, Integrated didactic approaches, Intercomprehension between related languages, Intercultural approaches) are based on activities that include several linguistic and cultural varieties.They develop a concrete concept of the multilingual and multicultural competence promoted by the Common European Framework of Reference for languages. They provide tools which allow for the design and bringing together of didactic interventions favorable to the development and continuous enrichment of this competence by learners. Dedicated to plurilingual and pluricultural dimensions of learning, FREPA complements the other instruments of the Council of Europe.

The term “pluralistic approaches to languages and cultures” refers to didactic approaches which use teaching / learning activities involving several (i.e. more than one) varieties of languages or cultures.

This is to be contrasted with approaches which could be called “singular” in which the didactic approach takes account of only one language or a particular culture, considered in isolation. Singular approaches of this kind were particularly valued when structural and later “communicative” methods were developed and all translation  and all resort to the first language was banished from the teaching process.

Language teaching methodology has seen the emergence of  four pluralistic approaches over the past thirty years:

Awakening to languages

Several European projects have enabled awakening to languages movements to develop on a broader scale, defining it as follows: “awakening to language is used to describe approaches in which some of the learning activities are concerned with languages which the school generally does not intend to teach.” This does not mean that the approach is concerned just with such languages. The approach concerns the language(s) of education and any other language which is in the process of being learnt. But it is not limited to these “learnt” languages, and integrates all sorts of other linguistic varieties – from the environment, from families… and from all over the world, without exclusion of any kind... Because of the number of languages on which learners work – very often, several dozen – awakening to languages may seem to be the most extreme form of pluralistic approach. It was designed principally as a way of introducing schoolchildren to linguistic diversity (and the diversity of their own languages) at the beginning of school education, as a vector of fuller recognition of the languages “brought” by children with other home languages, as a kind of preparatory course developed at primary schools, but it can also be promoted as a support to language learning throughout the learners’ school career.

L’Eveil aux langues (Awakening to languages) as it has been developed specifically in the Evlang and Jaling programmes is explicitly linked to the Language Awareness movement initiated by E. Hawkins in the 1980s in the United Kingdom. However, the éveil aux langues nowadays is to be seen as a sub-category of the Language Awareness approach, which is also generating research which is more psycho-linguistic than pedagogic and which does not necessarily involve confronting the learner with a number of languages. For this reason those promoting éveil aux langues prefer to use another term in English – Awakening to languages – to describe this approach.

Awakening to languages today - a Powerpoint by Michel Candelier and Ildikó Lörincz (6th EDiLiC Conference, Györ, July 2016)

Intercomprehension between related languages

In the approach termed Intercomprehension between related languages the learner works on two or more languages of the same linguistic family (Romance, Germanic, Slavic languages, etc.) in parallel. One of these languages is already known, being either the learner’s mother tongue, or the language of education, or even another language having been learnt previously.
In this approach there is a systematic focus on receptive skills, as the development of comprehension is the most tangible way of using the knowledge of a related language to learn a new one. Of course, this does not exclude some added benefits for productive skills.

In the second half of the 1990s there was innovative work in this area with adult learners (including university students), in France and other countries speaking romance languages, as well as in Germany, Scandinavian and Slavophone countries. Many were supported at a European level in the programmes of the European Union. Examples of this approach are to be found in certain materials produced for awakening to language approaches, but in general there has been little development of intercomprehension in schools.

Intercultural approach

The intercultural approach has already had a clear influence on the methodology of language teaching and is therefore relatively well-known.

Its many variants are all based on didactic principles which recommend relying on phenomena from one or more cultural area(s) (conceived of as hybrid, open and dynamic) as a basis for understanding others from one or more other area(s).

They also advocate developing strategies to promote reflection about contact situations involving persons with different cultural background.


Integrated didactic approach

Integrated didactic approaches are directed towards helping learners to establish links between a limited number of languages, which are taught within the school curriculum. Integrated didactics work on the central principle advocated by pluralistic approaches of capitalising on what is already known in order to access what is less known : the language of schooling for accessing the first foreign language, which can then be used as a springboard to facilitate the acquisition of a second foreign language etc., keeping in mind that mutual support between languages goes in both directions. This approach does not neglect, either, the home languages of the learners, especially when they are explicitly taught. One can therefore have two (or even three or four) languages which are being “tackled” simultaneously.

This was an approach advocated as early as the beginning of the 1980s in the work of E. Roulet. It is also the direction taken by numerous projects exploring the idea of German after English when they are learnt as foreign languages (cf. the studies relating to Tertiary language learning). Other studies investigate ways of linking the language of schooling and other languages taught in an integrated perspective. It is also present in certain approaches to bilingual education, which seek to make learners identify similaries and differences between the languages used in teaching, irrespective of the subject being studied.

 “German after English”

   Some references